Maryland is again looking to be one of the more progressive states in the nation when it comes to criminal justice reform, as legislators have agreed to pass a sweeping crime reform bill. The bill is unique in that it strengthens criminal penalties in some areas, but shifts the focus of criminal penalties in others.

The New Law

The new law, called the Justice Reinvestment Act, has a number of changes to Maryland’s criminal justice laws. The new law allows those who have finished 25% of sentences to be administratively released. The provision would only apply to nonviolent drug offenses, or thefts where the amount was less than $1,500. In some cases, if public safety is threatened, a parole commission can opt not to provide the early release.

Sometimes, the United States Supreme Court rules by declining to rule. When a case is appealed to the Supreme Court, the Court may opt to not accept the case. When that happens, the practical effect is that the law created by the lower court remains the law.

This was the case recently when the Supreme Court declined to get involved in a case involving the Eighth Amendment’s restriction on cruel and unusual punishment.

Severe Penalty for Drug Possession

Many people know, or at least are aware of the doctrine of causation. It means that someone’s negligence needs to cause the injury that was sustained by the victim. Causation—sometimes called proximate cause—is a crucial element in almost every personal injury case.


A lot of people may not be aware that causation can play a part in criminal cases as well, and that someone who breaks the law and causes an injury can be criminally charged even if they did not directly injure anyone.

The constitutional issues surrounding cell phones and due process continue to evolve. Stingrays are devices that track cellphones even when they are not in use. The devices emulate cell phone towers, thus prompting phones to connect to them, and thus revealing location information of the phones. Law enforcement has used these devices which can track someone’s location through their cell phone, even when the cell phone isn’t actually  being used.

Recently, there has been a new development in this issue. A court has determined that before law enforcement can use a Stingray device, they must in fact obtain a warrant.

Warrants Were Not Being Used

We tend to think of constitutional rights as a universal concept or as something that each and every state agency owes to us. Anytime a government agency can deprive us of liberty or take away what we perceive as a right, we envision the protections of the constitution governing any dispute that we may have.

University Policies

But that may not always be the case, and that particularly is true when it comes to public colleges and universities.  This can be particularly troubling, as many large universities function almost as “mini-cities,” with parking enforcement, housing, campus police, and financial assistance to those in need. And of course, our universities provide us the most important benefit of a college degree.

We have previously kept you up to date on Maryland’s slow but steady legal changes, which represent a different approach to fighting the drug war. Maryland’s attempt to overhaul its drug laws is continuing, as the legislature is now reviewing proposed radical changes, which would make the state somewhat of a pioneer on the drug front.

Proposed Changes Take a Different Approach

The first proposed law is one that would provide for on-demand treatment at emergency rooms, for people admitted with drug-related problems. While this may seem counterintuitive, it stems from a study showing that for every dollar spent on treatment $12 is saved on healthcare and criminal justice costs. The law would require hospitals have a drug counselor available at all times, and require them to have pre-set arrangements to transfer patients to rehabilitation centers.

A criminal defendant always has the right to cross examine those who accuse him or her of a crime. A new Maryland criminal case discusses the limits of that right, and whether it can be applied to language interpreters.

Deaf Man Accused of Inappropriate Behavior

The accused worked at a school for the deaf, and was deaf himself. He communicated with only sign language, but read and spoke no English. He was fired when female students accused him of inappropriately touching them. He was then arrested, and underwent an extensive interrogation by the police.

In many cases, a defendant may find that a plea bargain is in his or her best interest. A judge has wide latitude in determining what the conditions of probation will be. A recent case has affirmed a Court’s ability to restrict someone from driving as a condition of probation.

Probation Ordered After Accident

The case arose when the defendant was accused of trying to pass another driver. While doing so, the Defendant allegedly exceeded the speed limit, in the lane going in the opposite direction. The Defendant crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Both occupants of the oncoming vehicle later died.

The ability to drive is considered a privilege and not a right in the eyes of the law. As such, among other penalties, Maryland law allows officers the authority to suspend licenses for incidents involving driving under the influence. A recent case determined how far the state can go in requiring a driver take sobriety tests before suspending a license.

Driver Passes and Refuses Tests

The case arose when an officer stopped the accused for having an improperly fastened license plate. The officer, sensing the driver may have been impaired, had the driver perform the standard field sobriety tests. The officer did not smell alcohol on the accused and a BAC test came back under the legal limit.

We have written a lot about the constitutional implications of cell phones and the information on or in them. Questions of whether officers can look at your cell phone, or thumb through your text messages or emails, have been decided both in favor of and against defendants by Maryland courts.

But a recent case is dealing with a related, but not exactly identical question: Whether police can obtain and review your historical cell phone records—that is, the actual logs kept by your cell phone provider, which can contain all kinds of personal and private information.

Why Cell Tower Information is Valuable